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Daschle criticizes 'shameful' rider in DOI budget bill
Tuesday, November 4, 2003

The Senate voted easily on Monday to approve a $20 billion spending bill for the Department of Interior amid concerns over a provision that delays a court-ordered accounting of the Indian trust.

Although some Democrats spoke out against the measure, only Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the minority leader, and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) rejected the spending package. The roll call on the bill, which now goes onto President Bush for his signature, was 87-2. Eleven senators were not present to vote.

The lack of controversy in the Senate contrasted with the the House, where lawmakers mounted a campaign to defeat the trust fund rider. Despite impassioned pleas by several Indian Country advocates, including Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) and Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), the bill was narrowly approved by a vote of 216-205.

Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, led debate in the Senate. He said the bill provided critical funds to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS).

But he questioned whether an historical accounting of at least $13 billion in Indian funds was a wise expenditure. "We shouldn't spend that kind of money on an incredibly cumbersome accounting that will do almost nothing to benefit the Indian people," he said.

He called the rider, which delays the accounting for a year, a much needed "time-out" in the Cobell v. Norton case, which was filed in 1996 and represents at least 500,000 individual Indians.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, called the provision unconstitutional because it tells the courts how to interpret federal law. Yet he too said wasn't beneficial to spend the money on the accounting when it could be used elsewhere.

"We've now had a court order," he said, "that apparently, if followed to the letter, would require us to hire accountants from Maine to California and do about $9 billion worth of work."

Daschle was the only senator to stand with the plaintiffs in the case and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest inter-tribal organization. "The court has ordered an accounting. This rider will undermine that order. It will delay resolution and delay justice," he said. "What other group of Americans would we dare to treat this way?"

"Why target American Indians?" he continued. "Many account holders are older people, elders who have suffered extreme economic deprivation their entire lives.. . This is shameful."

Despite concerns about resources going to Indian Country, the bill does not provide significant increases to Indian programs. Once signed into law, BIA will receive about $2.9 billion while IHS will get about $3 billion.

Earlier this year, Senate Republicans and some Democrats voted down a Daschle amendment that would have beefed up the IHS account by $2.9 billion. They also rejected his bid to add $292 million to IHS by putting a stop to a reorganization that tribal leaders oppose.

On September 25, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the Department of Interior to conduct an accounting of "all funds" in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust. At least $13 billion has passed through the system since 1909 but the federal government can't ensure that Indian beneficiaries received all of the money.

The Bush administration, in July 2002, estimated that the accounting of the type of scale envisioned by Lamberth would cost $2.4 billion and take up to 10 years. Since the September ruling, officials bumped up the figure to anywhere from $6 billion to $12 billion.

In January of this year, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton released a scaled-back accounting plan that would have cost $335 million over five years. But it contained a significant number of limitations that Lamberth rejected in his court decision.

Senate Roll Call:
the Conference Report (H.R. 2691 Conference Report ) (November 3, 2003)

DOI Budget Bill:
H.R.2691

DOI Conference Committee Report:
House Report. 108-330 | PDF Version

Court Decisions:
Historical Accounting | Fixing the System | Structural Injunction

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust

Related Stories:
Norton appealing Indian trust fund ruling (11/3)
Norton says White House behind trust fund rider (11/3)
House approves trust fund rider in DOI bill (10/31)
Campbell pushes action on trust fund suit (10/30)
Battle brews in House over DOI budget bill (10/30)
Cobell rallies support for trust fund case (10/28)
DOI bill halts Indian trust fund case (10/24)
Bill targets Indian trust fund suit (10/22)
House chairman supports self-governance rider (10/14)
Self-governance tribes fear impact of reorganization (10/09)
Lamberth lays out future of Indian trust reform (09/26)
Court report finds undervaluation of Navajo lands (08/21)
Administration eyes consolidation of Indian appraisals (08/15)
Tally for private attorney fees in Cobell case rises (07/24)
Congress hacks Bush's accounting funds (7/16)
Swimmer partly right on trust fund rider (7/14)
Bush official balks at large settlement for Cobell (7/10)
On trust, lawmakers take Bush officials at face value (06/25)
Private attorneys reap benefits on Cobell case (06/24)
Norton offered settlement funds for IIM trust (6/20)
Lamberth criticizes interference with trust fund case (05/22)
Bush administration turns to Congress on trust (04/04)

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